LIBERIA: Ending the Nightmare- Sime Darby Revives Residents Hope After Fire Explosion

Over the last one month, Sime Darby Plantation Liberia Inc. (SDPL) has had an uphill task of trying to address the health and sanitation needs of thousands of plantation residents in the aftermath of a fire explosion, last September.

The company issued a statement in which it expressed regrets over the incident and promised to help residents remain safe and healthy. SDPL also warned that camp residents who were closest to the fire explosion stop drinking water from hand-pumps, until a water quality test is done, wear nose mask and report anyone with respiratory and eye complications for medical examination and treatment. Ten (10) of the people who were injured from the fire were treated at a local hospital, while one is still undergoing treatment. SDPL Health and Safety Team which led the efforts immediately began giving food including: frozen fish, chicken beans, milk and water to over 5,000 camp residents on a daily basis. The process is still ongoing.

According to the company, most of the residents of the camps are not employees but rather relatives and squatters. “For us, we see the safety of every resident within our planation as an obligation and a foremost responsibility,” David Kolleh a company spokesman said.

A visit to Sime Darby plantation fortnight ago, suggests the company is making some efforts in trying to implement the Joint Inter-ministerial report after the fire explosion last September. As recommended by the report, a medical mobile team has been put into place to address arising health concerns that may be experienced by locals as a result of the explosion. Polly-tanks with water for washing are in every location. Ecogreen, an internationally certified environmental company is conducting routine water quality testing on wells throughout the four affected camps. So far, tests result show residents are free to use and drink water. Jacques Waouo, a Cameroonian who is an environmental expert hired by SDPL, says his team has a planned training of more than 500 employees in early November. The training will be geared toward enhancing occupational health and safety, training workers in new safety protocols and procedures as well as enforcement.

Miatta Seh, a camp resident from Dependent Camp in her mid-40s thinks SDPL has shown commitment to help them following the explosion. “Every day the people can come and give us fish and beans,” Miatta said smiling.

“We are currently doing the paper works to procure a fire truck. We don’t want a reoccurrence of anything like the last fire to take us unaware,” David Kolleh a company spokesman said in a mobile phone conversation.  

Sime Darby Plantation Liberia Inc. (SDPL) has Four Estates: Lofa, Matambo, Bomi and GCM. The company has at least 22 camps. To date, SDPL has a little over 2,700 employees and more than 10,000 contractors. According to the Ministry of Finance, SDPL is the largest employer in Western Liberia, accounting for more than 65 percent of people employed in the region.

In 2009 Sime Darby signed a 63 year concession with the Liberian Government to develop 220,000 hectares of land into green fields of oil palm and rubber. So far, SDPL has planted just over 10,000 hectares of land with oil palm. 

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